Monday, March 27, 2017

Animation On Display 2017

Hello again, AOD, it's been another year and another show. How have things changed? Were they better, or did the con take a turn for the worse? Let's take a look at this year's convention and see how it went.

This year, AOD changed locations once again, from the Santa Clara Convention Center to the Santa Clara Marriott. Fear not, fans of the Convention Center, we'll be back there soon enough for Crunchyroll Expo. The change in location resulted in more than a few friends talking about how they drove to the convention center by mistake, before heading back and finding the hotel, but that's no fault of the convention.

As for the con's layout, it was somewhat basic; one hallway was dedicated to panel and event rooms, while there were other rooms further down for the dealer's hall and artist alley, a video gaming room, and registration. One thing I noticed was that they had an area outside the video gaming room for foam sword fights; unusual for an anime con, but still neat.

The dealer's hall itself was decent, but somewhat lacking. Aside from a table with a wide selection of video games, most of the dealers had figures, plushies, and clothes; less in the way of manga, cards, or anime DVDs. I suppose that's what the market may be leaning to these days, but it still made my shopping options rather limited. There were, however, plenty of great artists at the artist alley, and wandering through there presented us with multitudes of unique works of fan art.

Outside, near registration, attendees could pick up scavenger hunt rules and targets; wander around, get pictures of things on the list, and get entered to win a prize. Now, I enjoy winning, and scavenger hunts are good ways to pass the time at conventions, so I took part. I did notice that there were some scavenger hunt targets that we had no guarantee would be there; specific cosplayers, for instance, may have had a good chance of being there, but there was still no guarantee that anyone would show up as a Vocaloid.

Honestly, I made the same mistake when I first helped pick scavenger hunt targets for Sakura 360; I was so certain there would be at least someone cosplaying from "JoJo's Bizarre Adventure" that we put it on the list, only for there to be no JoJo's whatsoever. The following year, having learned from that, we put "Pokemon cosplayer" on the hunt, and made sure that at least someone on the team was there as a Pokemon character. So I can't be mad at them for this, it's an easy mistake to make, but the next time they want to include, say, two "Star Wars" characters in a lightsaber battle, they should have at least two staff members in "Star Wars" cosplay.

Still, I managed to get fifteen pictures, enough to qualify for the first prize. After emailing them in, however, I heard nothing, so I can only assume there was just one winner and no one else was notified. It felt kind of disappointing to spend all that time and not even get a "Great pics, thanks for playing!" back, but it still proved a good diversion throughout the day.

One panel event that was particularly nice was Steven Savage's "Nerdy Networking" event. Professional geeks in all fields could go and mingle with their peers, making connections and talking about their various struggles, endeavors, and opportunities. There were groups for artists, writers, animators, and so on, and while many of us were at the same point in our careers, it was still very useful for making connections.

Other panels were less than interesting to me; I noticed there were some "troll" panels, intended to be humorous by making intentionally poor arguments for things like "why dubs are better than subs," but they didn't exactly catch my interest. Still, the panels I saw had decently-sized crowds, so as long as there's an audience, there's no problem.

Food-wise, the new location was much closer to some local eateries, which was a plus. Those who wanted to could spend a little extra to eat at the hotel restaurant, but more budget-conscious attendees could walk a few blocks away and grab a slice at Pizza My Heart, or a sandwich at Togo's. That was a great step up from last year, where those food options were out of walking distance, and the convention center food was more expensive.

While most of the guests at AOD were either returning guests from previous years or outside my field of interest, there were plenty of musical guests, each of whom had shows and concerts. Aivi and Surasshu were the ones I was interested in, due to their work on "Steven Universe," however, due to unfortunate circumstances, I left the convention a little before their concert. That turned out to be a mistake, as I received a message about 30 minutes into their show saying "You're missing Rebecca Sugar."

For both of you not aware, Rebecca Sugar is the creator of "Steven Universe." Her appearance was a surprise, unannounced by the convention because even most of them were unaware. So I quickly rushed back to the convention, just in time to see the end of the show.

Immediately afterwards, a line formed outside the autograph room to meet her and the performers. Interestingly, the organizers said it could be a meet-and-greet, and fans could mingle, but instead we all neatly formed into an autograph line; it seemed we'd all come to a silent agreement that such a line would be the best way to let everyone have a fair amount of time meeting them, getting pictures, and autographs, and leaving time for everyone else.

Either that or everyone just assumed it would be a typical autograph line anyways, and just went with it. Either way, props to the fans for being so organized.

Now, typically I like to get guests to sign blank Cards Against Humanity cards, but since this was a surprise appearance, I didn't have any. Other attendees had their sketchbooks onhand, or other things to sign, but many of us went with our badges. I must say, Rebecca was a very gracious guest, always giving the attendees her full attention while meeting with them, and taking the time to draw a sketch of their favorite characters with her autograph. (Mine was Jamie, since he's the character I cosplay as.)

With that amazing surprise out of the way, Day 1 came to a close. There were other events, such as the masquerade and swap meet, but I had to leave early, so Day 2 awaited.

Day 2 began around the same time as the first. There was a new scavenger hunt, with slightly fewer targets for the shorter day, but I opted against it. As with before, much of it was spent wandering around, meeting friends and generally strolling from one side of the dealer's hall to the other.

Following lunch, there was apparently an incident where someone attempted to steal several things and run from the convention and across the street. To call it unexpected would be an understatement, but many of us tried to give chase once we saw what was happening. Though the thief outran everyone at first, apparently he was caught later down the line; not quite as amusing as the "Sasuke being arrested" photo from Fanime several years back, but it was definitely an incident that mixed things up.

Still, Sunday proved to be a shorter day, with less in the way of interesting events. There was still a lot of hubbub over Rebecca Sugar's surprise appearance, and she was walking around the con for a time, but no new autograph sessions or events. Sadly, Lotus Juice's cancellation seemed to take a lot of energy out from the con, although the convention itself cannot be blamed for that, of course.

Speaking of guests, Ken Pontac was there, a familiar face to all attendees. He was taking pictures of congoers with a sign in support of Stefan Karl Stefansson, the actor playing Robbie Rotten in "Lazytown," following his battle with cancer. Ken is responsible for the song "You Are a Pirate" on the show, and everyone there was willing to help show their love and support for the actor.

Overall, this year's Animation On Display felt a little lacking in energy and activities, but it had some amazing surprises. The scavenger hunt was a nice touch, just in need of a little fixing, and there were plenty of musical guests, even if slightly less in the way of industry guests. The new location was nice, particularly in relation to its distance from food, it just needed a bit more in the way of activities.

What may have otherwise been somewhat forgettable, though, was made excellent by the surprise appearance of Rebecca Sugar. As such, this AOD still managed to come out ahead, and hopefully next year will have new surprises too.

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